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Kokomo sits in the old yar tree; but always with an eye for danger

Kokomos in a yar tree (Rocky Roe)GRAHAM KING

BIALLA - When my children were small and living in West New Britain they would sing the Papua New Guinean version of ‘Kookaburra Sits in the Old Gum Tree’ which was ‘Kokomo Sits in the Coconut Tree’.

They also sang another version which was ‘Kokomo sits on the ‘lectric wire, jumping up and down with his pants on fire’.

I have never seen Kokomos roosting on a coconut and, besides, coconuts are palms not trees.

But in West New Britain the Kokomos love to find a tall yar tree on which they spend the night.

In Bialla over 200 Kokomos (Blyths Hornbill) fly in every afternoon at dusk to roost in a tall yar tree (Casuarina equisetifolia) in the Area 7 Executive Housing complex.

And every morning they make a raucous cacophony of noise as they wake and head off to their feeding grounds in the forests surrounding the oil palm plantations.

Plantation work necessitates an early start to the day but even on a Sunday morning it is very difficult to sleep in with the noise of the Kokomos waking up next door to our houses. 

Of course the sight and noise of Kokomos flying in of an evening, either singly or in groups with the swishing noise from the beat of their wings, makes the evening SP or gin & tonic even more pleasurable.

Over the last 12 years they have moved trees four times and I have often wondered what triggers the move.

Once lightning struck the tree and next morning there were quite a few dead birds on the ground at its base.  Of course the people took them very quickly as the beaks are highly prized in many parts of PNG as part of traditional dress.

Soon afterwards the rest of the birds moved to a new tree.

On another occasion some security guards were shooting birds with catapults. The guards were fired but the birds decided it was time to move again.

Some years ago we found that the yar tree they were using was totally rotten at the base and it was very likely it would fall down on a house.  There were other yar trees close by so, while the Kokomos were away feeding during the day, we cut down the tree.

On the birds return in the afternoon, after some confusion, they settled in a new tree near the bottom of the hill.

Rocky Roe came in 2017 to take photographs for our 40th anniversary and sent up a drone beside the tree to get some close-up photographs.  The Kokomos were immediately agitated and started flying around to escape the threat.  Rocky quickly brought the drone back to earth as he did not want he birds to attack his expensive drone.

Python having had its fill of kokomosA couple of months ago a large python managed to find the Kokomo tree, climbed up and ate two birds while they were asleep. 

Next morning the snake had a very full belly and was trying to slither off to digest his meal when a crowd of adults and children spotted him and were trying to kill him with a bush knife. 

Whilst we tried to prevent this, I’m not sure if the python survived. Most Papua New Guineans believe the only good snake is a dead one and it is most likely the moran was killed.

In any case, once again the Kokomos moved to a new yar tree. It seems they are able to sense danger and move when they consider it is no longer safe in a particular tree.

Now they are at the top of the hill again, and I wake once more to the raucous sound of the Kokomos discussing their daily plans before they heading off for another day foraging for their favourite food.


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Renee Keke Niking

Love this story! So vivid in my imagination...

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